This is one of those books that I’ve been wanting to read for a while, having seen and been attracted to the title alone. I actually bought it for a friend for Christmas as it was something that I thought he would enjoy, to which he also lent it back to me, so it’s kind of boomeranged back. It’s an interesting book for sure, but I definitely had a few issues with it. This is going to be a bit spoiler-y.
It all starts on the one-hundredth birthday of Allan Karlsson. Sitting quietly in his room in an old people’s home, he is waiting for the party he-never-wanted-anyway to begin. The Mayor is going to be there. The press is going to be there. But, as it turns out, Allan is not… Slowly but surely Allan climbs out of his bedroom window, into the flowerbed (in his slippers) and makes his getaway. And so begins his picaresque and unlikely journey involving criminals, several murders, a suitcase full of cash, and incompetent police. As his escapades unfold, we learn something of Allan’s earlier life in which – remarkably – he helped to make the atom bomb, became friends with American presidents, Russian tyrants, and Chinese leaders, and was a participant behind the scenes in many key events of the twentieth century.
We first meet Allan as he’s being prepped for his birthday party – he’s going to be 100 – no mean feat in anyone’s life. But Allan isn’t happy with that, he doesn’t want a birthday party, and does what any normal person would do, and runs away from it instead. He’s not happy with life in his residential home, he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t like Director Alice because she doesn’t like/want/let him drink vodka. If there’s been one thing that’s guided most of Allan’s life decisions it is vodka.
This is one of those stories with two concurrent storylines running at the same time: Allan in the present, the actions and effects of those actions, alongside the people that he meets. It started with the theft of a suitcase. The other is Allan through the years, from when he was a youngster through becoming experienced in explosives, the Spanish Civil war, working in the USA, Russia, China. Through this journey we see Allan’s singlehanded effects in politics – even though he doesn’t like politics and tunes out when people talk about them – he gave the US the atomic bomb, then the Soviets, he spent some time with Churchill, Truman, Mao…there was a lot going on.
For me this book turned into one that was moderately okay, but I wasn’t captured with it like I thought I was going to be. Everything that Allan did was by extraordinary luck, and nothing seemed to have any particular affect on him long term. From being sent to an asylum as a child, experimented on, castratrated, through to serving in wars, blowing up bridges and the invention of the atomic bomb – if I remember rightly Oppenheimer felt intense guilt about creating the bomb and went on to try and alleviate that guilt by lobbying for international control on nuclear power – but Allan just seems to glaze over it with an ‘oh well’ kind of attitude that I don’t think would even exist. Later in life – even into his seventies, he was working as a spy, falsifying reports and contributing to both the space race and the disarmament campaigns in Soviet Russia through his work in the CIA.
I think I would have liked this book a whole lot more if the writing had been a little different. I really felt that the use of the short and simple sentences detracted me from the book itself, and was a little insulting as it sort of read like a newspaper article. Just a really long one. There were also lots of sentences that ran like this: this happened and then this happened, and then this happen, and then it was time to leave because Allan wanted some vodka.
I don’t know – I just didn’t gel with the writing. I partly think that this could well have been because it was translated from Swedish, so perhaps something got lost in translation.
Would I recommend this book to others? I think it’s one of those books that if you want a quick read and a little suspension from disbelief for a small while, then sure. Perhaps it would be one of those that you would enjoy far better that I, but overall I didn’t get with the hype of the book, so would say that it’s on the must read list or anything like that.
What books are you reading at the moment? Anything that excites you? I’m about to pick up “Welcome to Night Vale” and looking very much to reading. It’s been on the bookshelf for long enough!